WWE Brand Split 2015: NXT Takeover vs. SummerSlam, a Live Perspective

At this point in my fandom, I expect to sit close to the action at live events. House shows are, by and large, a waste of my hard earned money. As an adult fan, I can allow myself to splurge here and there, within reason of course. I do have a wife and kid to support. Which is precisely the reason why I planned on going to NXT, but skipping out on SummerSlam. Sure, I live twenty minutes away and work across the street from the Barclays Center, but Vince be damned, good SummerSlam seats were just too expensive. Then Brock Lesnar versus the Undertaker was announced. How could I pass up the last chance I’ll have to see the Phenom in a big time match at arguably the second biggest WWE PPV of the year?

Thus, the stage was set for a natural comparison within the same company,effectively the most successful WWE brand split to date. Walking up to the venue, there was a very different vibe on both days. NXT seemed to be devoid of children under the age of 18. Of course there was the odd child here and there, but this was markedly a Kevin Owens crowd. The beer lines were longer than Summerslam and everyone standing up was taller than me, but the entire night felt like an indie show on a larger scale. During the main event, the jumbotron was shut off. But like an indie promoter, once the chants to “turn the screen on” emanated from the crowd, the unthinkable occurred: it went on. Despite the lack of a WWE app poll, the Universe, if for only one night, was appeased. One can’t help but wonder how many fans skipped ROH and attended NXT. The same rabid following was multiplied by thousands and led to resounding joy when Bayley won. I’ve never seen so many men in Divas shirts, but I realized this was a good thing. Not because women had finally garnered the spotlight, but because storytelling had once again returned to the realm of the WWE.

So how do these two cards stack against each other? SummerSlam smacked of big moments. The wrestling was second to the storylines. SummerSlam was a spectacle; Without Jon Stewart, Stephen Amell and the part timers, the WWE’s second biggest PPV was not better than Takeover. Cena losing in Brooklyn was a magical moment. The arena that had been so against him the night before may have had less clout on this night, but it possessed just as much passion in triumph and jubilation over the defeat of the machine’s flag-bearer. Far too many times in a similar milieu, the Champ has persevered against logic, but on this night he lost. It was not for him to win later, not to lose by absence, but to simply lose. Sure he had some help in doing so, but short of Pat Kiernan, no other New Yorker would elude derision as deftly as Jon Stewart.

NXT was not about scripts and names, however. The fans and the performers, including Triple-H poured themselves into the presentation of the NXT product, elevating it and making it special. Jushin Liger made an appearance and Apollo Crews made his debut, but those names were not the draw. Crews made himself a special attraction by exhibiting an impeccable workrate. The running Ligerbomb, performed perfectly, warranted the duke for the 50 year old high flier. Each and every single victory on the card made sense in terms of the product. The rising action that developed throughout the night crescendo-ed during the Women’s title match which speaks volumes to not only granting air time to the female superstars, but to the development of each story as important. After watching the show on the Network, the commentary team deserves plaudits as well, as Corey Graves, in particular, delivered an exceptional performance, harkening back to the days of true heel commentators.  With so much classic territorial booking, one can only wonder how much of this event was inspired or influenced by the American Dream.

SummerSlam’s commentary and booking decisions did not augment the show, but rather detracted from it. JBL can not seem to remember who he is supporting in any given match. His support jumped back and forth so many times between Undertaker and Lesnar, that I’m not really sure he has his wits about him. As much as Graves elevated the quality of the story being told in the ring, JBL’s hyperbolic country bumpkin aw shucks routine jolted the audience out of the suspension of disbelief that is so important to wrestling. The finish of the Undertaker-Lesnar return bout was laid in solid planning: the Undertaker comes away with the win while cheating, thus protecting Lesnar’s credibility. Excellent thinking, but the execution of a timekeeper controversy stumbled and lead to nothing but confusion, especially for the live audience. Despite these flaws, the event’s four hours flew by, as the night had an excellent flow kept me entertained throughout.

At the risk of debunking the validity of this discussion with a banal platitude, the fans were the winners of the showdown this weekend. Those who were searching for a night of gritty professional wrestling came away happy, witness to one of the best ladder matches ever to take place in New York. Those who wanted to see a New York stamp on a recently Los Angeles mainstay with water cooler moments enjoyed the greatest gift that can be parceled out to wrestling fans, the simple question: what happens next?

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